Why Kansas kids need cash assistance now more than ever

Emily Fetsch
June 10, 2020

Our current economic crisis could be particularly difficult for children, new research shows. Two reports from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University show that increased unemployment will lead to larger increases in poverty rates for children and working-age adults. Unfortunately, data also shows that most children living in poverty or near poverty are not enrolled in vital economic support programs that might be more important than ever.

The first report connects the increasing unemployment rate to an increase in the child poverty rate. It states that “if a 30 percent unemployment rate were to persist throughout the year, we project that poverty rates among … children…will rise by 53 percent” from 14 percent to 21 percent. 

In Kansas, the child poverty rate was nearly 15 percent in 2018. If we mirror the national trend described above, more than one in five Kansas children could soon be living in poverty. Poverty has long-term, profound effects on children and families. Research shows adverse childhood experiences, common to those living in poverty, literally change the structure of children’s brains. Those changes make children less resilient and more likely to develop chronic health conditions, as well as experience violence, addiction, and negative social consequences. 

Regardless of the economic situation, children are more likely to experience poverty than adults. And many programs designed to alleviate poverty are geared toward households with children. However, many children living near or below the poverty line are not enrolled in these programs, and, for the reasons mentioned above, we will likely see more children needing these vital programs.

The second report discusses national trends related to children in poverty and their use of these support programs. The research shows that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and unemployment insurance, among other programs, do not reach most children living at or near poverty.

This is true in Kansas as well. According to KIDS COUNT data, 103,000 Kansas children lived below the poverty line in 2018 (translating to $21,720 a year for a family of three). An additional 156,000 Kansas children lived below 200 percent of the poverty line in 2018 ($43,440 a year for a family of three), but above line itself. That’s nearly 260,000 Kansas children in total, and that number has likely increased given our current economic and unemployment crisis.

But most of these Kansas children were not receiving monetary support.

  • In 2018, the monthly average of Kansas children receiving SNAP benefits was 103,282. 
  • In 2018, the monthly average of Kansas children receiving TANF benefits was just 7,378.

As the above shows, children living in poverty are more likely to be enrolled in SNAP compared to TANF. While SNAP provides crucial nutrition for children, the report points out that “SNAP leaves out the majority of low-income kids and SNAP benefits cannot be used to meet rent, pay bills, cover child care, or buy diapers, hand sanitizer, or other necessities.” Cash assistance such as TANF, however, could give low-income families the flexibility they need to make needed purchases to support their health and well-being during this challenging time.

Increasing access to programs such as SNAP and TANF is more important than ever. Policymakers must ensure that children and families who are eligible for these programs can enroll easily and promptly, without unnecessary barriers and paperwork designed to keep children from these critical benefits.

Emily Fetsch is the director of policy and research at Kansas Action for Children.